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    « Changes to the way Ofsted inspects and reports | Main | New statutory guidance on safeguarding »

    Staff well-being

    Do you know that the 2019 new inspection framework has a much sharper focus on staff stress and well-being? Do you know that, according to recent research, staff working in education report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain? But when staff take time off work, many report the cause as a physical illness? Recent research also shows that only 32% of organisations train staff on how to combat stress to support good work-place mental health and well-being. What training and support are you offering? Did you know that there is a free support service for staff?

    What does the research show?

    High demands, increasing workloads and constant pressure are common companions in the FE sector. These can impact on staff stress levels, mental health and well-being. So it’s not surprising that 7 in 10 staff in FE experience stress, according to a poll conducted by the National Education Union in 2018. And according to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, staff working in education report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain.

    Research published in August 2019 found that staff often report a physical illness when having to take time off work for stress, exhaustion or depression. They cited a variety of reasons including embarrassment, fear of being misunderstood and discomfort with disclosing a mental health difficulty. The research identified the need for staff, particularly line managers, to be trained in spotting the signs of stress and knowing how to support staff to become more resilient. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said workplace culture often dictated whether individuals felt comfortable disclosing mental health problems. ‘In some workplaces, mental health is still a bit of a taboo issue and not everyone is comfortable about being open about something like stress or anxiety or depression,’ he said.

    What are the implications for inspection?

    In case you missed it, Ofsted published a report in July that detailed research on well-being in the education profession. You can read more on ‘Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers’ here

    Under the new 2019 inspection framework, Ofsted will look at how colleges consider staff well-being under the leadership and management judgement. Questions specifically relating to well-being, for example, are included on the new staff questionnaire.

    Richard Caulfield, Mental Health lead at the Association of Colleges, said:

    'Every single day colleges across England provide a world class education and transform the lives of millions of people. This includes providing support for both staff and student wellbeing at the right time, in the right place.'

    How can we best support staff?

    In light of the above, it’s not surprising that my training course, ‘staff well-being, stress and mental health’ has increased in popularity over the last 18 months, becoming one of my ‘top 12’ training workshops. This training helps staff to identify the signs and symptoms of stress. It explores practical strategies to improve resilience and minimise the impact of stress, helping to create a positive mental health and well-being workplace. It will help staff to gain the confidence to talk openly about difficulties that they are experiencing. It will help line-managers support their team’s mental health and well-being. You can download further information about this workshop here

    The Education Support Partnership

    The Education Support Partnership is a UK charity focussing on improving the wellbeing and mental health of education staff in schools, colleges and universities. Support is available on issues such as:

    • Feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious
    • Personal issues
    • Financial information
    • Issues of work-life balance

    Their free and confidential helpline is available to all staff working in education, 24/7, 365 days a year. Their helpline number is 08000 562 561  (Text Helpline: 07909 341229)

    A personal call for change

    Neil Bates, a former college Principal, gave a powerful reminder of the importance of creating an environment where staff gain the confidence to talk openly about issues. Writing in FE news, he talked candidly about the difficulties of even acknowledging problems to colleagues. His story illustrates the importance of creating a workplace culture where people feel safe to share their concerns and difficulties. Below is an extract from his article.

    It can be lonely at the top, admits former principal Neil Bates

    People who have headaches but describe them as migraines have probably never suffered from a real migraine. People who sometimes feel a bit down and say that they are depressed have probably never suffered from depressive illness.

    But try telling someone that you have a mental illness and see what reaction you get. Moreover if you happen to be a man, try and tell someone you have depression. Heaven forbid you are a man and in a position of leadership and suffer from depression. I guarantee that any disclosure of this shocking and shameful secret will have most people running for the hills. [and yet], In the UK anxiety effects six in every 100 people, and for full-on depression it is three in 100.

    Organisations are becoming much more aware of the mental health issues affecting their workforce. One in four of us will suffer stress or anxiety during our lifetime so it makes sense to make early intervention available to prevent a difficult time from becoming a long-term illness.

    But there is one group of people who suffer in almost total silence. I am talking about men and specifically, men in leadership roles. To bring it even closer to home, I am talking about principals and CEOs in the FE sector.

    What are our expectations of these men? We want them to be strong, charismatic, driven, optimistic, successful, and true leaders of people, and most times they are. In contrast, some of these men feel weak, vulnerable, inadequate, lonely, isolated, and above all else, sad. Not a tear-jerking movie kind of sad, but a sadness deep in the gut that cloaks everything in darkness and extinguishes the light. Place those expectations and feelings into a climate of intense pressure with the career life expectancy of your average premiership football manager, and you have an explosive cocktail.

    Heaven forbid you are a man and in a position of leadership and suffer from depression

    There is some good news. You can live with depression and continue to be very good at your job. I have suffered from depression for the last 10 years. It comes and goes to some extent depending on what is going on in my life. I was extremely close to my mother who died in November 2013. I got the call from Ofsted on the day before the funeral. All grieving had to be suspended so that I could come back and lead my team. Such are the pressures on FE leaders.

    Three months later I crashed and burned and ended up heavily medicated, but still working. And that’s my point. The most successful period in my 30-year career has been the last 10 years. Men with depression, who hold that dirty secret, are masters of disguise. People with depression can and do continue to function well. I had two days off work in 10 years. I am pretty sure that to the outside world I was “normal”. Suffering from depression is a perfectly manageable illness, but it is made much harder if the individual feels that they have to keep it a secret. That’s why we have to change our attitude.

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